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They have supported the spread of colonization and the slave trade, but have also served scientific, cultural, and humanitarian needs.After the 15th century, new crops that had come from and to the Americas via the European seafarers significantly contributed to the world population growth.The Phoenicians, the first to sail completely around Africa, and Greeks gradually mastered navigation at sea aboard triremes, exploring and colonizing the Mediterranean via ship.

A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep waterways, carrying passengers or goods, or in support of specialized missions, such as defense, research and fishing.Historically, a "ship" was a sailing vessel with at least three square-rigged masts and a full bowsprit.It is known that ancient Nubia/Axum traded with India, and there is evidence that ships from Northeast Africa may have sailed back and forth between India/Sri Lanka and Nubia trading goods and even to Persia, Himyar and Rome.Elsewhere in Northeast Africa, the Periplus of the Red Sea reports that Somalis, through their northern ports such as Zeila and Berbera, were trading frankincense and other items with the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula well before the arrival of Islam as well as with then Roman-controlled Egypt.Ship transport is responsible for the largest portion of world commerce.

As of 2016, there were more than 49,000 merchant ships, totaling almost 1.8 billion dead weight tons.

The Yukti Kalpa Taru sums up in a condensed form all the available information.

The Yukti Kalpa Taru gives sufficient information and dates to prove that, in ancient times, Indian shipbuilders had a good knowledge of the materials which were used in building ships.

In the Age of Sail, a full-rigged ship was a sailing vessel with at least three square-rigged masts and a full bowsprit; other types of vessel were also defined by their sailplan, e.g. Though large enough to carry their own boats and heavy cargoes, these vessels are designed for operation on inland or protected coastal waters.

In most maritime traditions ships have individual names, and modern ships may belong to a ship class often named after its first ship.

The first navigators began to use animal skins or woven fabrics as sails.